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Reflecting on 2017 – Cape Town to Martinique

December 30, 2017

Six thousand five hundred miles of sailing in the past 12 months took us from Cape Town to the Caribbean. This includes several trips up and down the Windward chain of Caribbean Islands.

It’s not as far as many other sailors have sailed this year but it’s a fair distance, more so in cultures and wealth than actual miles. Here in the Caribbean we are constantly struck by the wealth of the western world and the way this wealth is displayed. From private Caribbean islands to mega yachts to million dollar sailboats that sit in storage for the majority of the year, we are astounded.

It doesn’t seem to matter the summer hurricane season destroyed most of the sailing fleet in the northern Caribbean. New boats are arriving every day either by ship or delivered by professional crews. The fleet was decimated but the insurance companies are paying out and those who lost boats have money in their pockets to buy a new one. There are those that can’t afford, or choose not, to buy insurance that are hurting. However, I have heard expressed in this area by boat owners ‘if I lose my boat I have insurance so I can buy another’. And the cycle continues.

I guess we are an anachronism. We started offshore sailing in the 1980s in a 27 foot boat, a 35 foot sailboat was considered average and a 40 footer huge. The boats then may have had refrigeration but washing machines and microwaves were unheard of. Now the average size of sailboats is around 45 feet and equipped with all the mod cons and enough water making capacity to have a bath every day and communication technology to stay attached to the ups and downs of investments.

While unemployment rates in North America are at a 20 year low homelessness is ever increasing and the gap between those who have and those who have not is ever increasing but here in the Caribbean the party goes on and the money is flowing. Most of our sailing in the past 8 years has taken us through areas where there isn’t excess displays of wealth. Yes, there is wealth there but not like here.

Our next 8 months will take us deeper into the wells of wealth as we approach NYC. What are we going to discover? How are we going to react?

I hope for everyone 2018 will prove to be better than 2017. Let’s not forget how lucky we are just to have food on the table, a sunset to enjoy and friends and/or family to enjoy life with. Lets not forget the many that have way less and find ways to help out.

New Crew For Christmas

December 23, 2017

Digging deep into our storage locker we came upon two stowawayds (thanks to a very dear friend in Victoria, Annie Boldt). Trying to introduce them into the ways of the sea has been difficult as they are more used to sleds and ice. However, persistence and patience has paid dividends as we teach them the intricacies of navigating through the pirate infested waters of French Caribbean waters. Here are a few pictures of our new crew getting used to the ropes, so to speak Being armless has presented a few problems with winch work but they’re getting the hang of it and learning fast.

Steering has been a snap as they run between the sections of the steering wheel while trying to keep the Christmas tree in the upright position. Anchoring, of course, is a big component and again without arms, a challenge but I promised that some time in the far future I’ll fork out for an electric windlass so then all they have to do is push the button. And the there’s the dinghy. They love the engine and I’m always warning them of the water police and speeding through the anchorage. Finally, though, and the item they enjoy imbibing in to a big degree is the apres-work activities. I didn’t tell them that it’s not really Appleton rum but rather a great brand from Martinique called Clement Agricole.

MERRY CHRISTMAS – May You All Have A Jolly Season Along With Our Stowaways.

Bequia – The Windward Islands Gem

December 3, 2017

We knew the first time we sailed into Bequia it wouldn’t be the last time.

Which way should I go?

Bequia is a long way from anywhere. We first came here in March and returned again in July on our way south to Grenada for the hurricane season. This time our return was dramatic; sailing past the south-western point of the island in yet another squall and in company with two other boats.

I am still looking for the owner of this boat as I have a few other pictures to share with bim/her

I first read about Bequia in a sailing magazine back in the 1970s. It was an article about the traditional boatbuilders of the island. Although one still sees some of the old sailboats around there aren’t many.

A classic Bequia sailboat which may have been, at one time in its life, could have been a working fishboat

Where most of those skills are evident is in the fishboats. These are coastal fishboats best designed for skipping over the east trade winds chasing the mahi mahi and barracuda.

But that’s not all they catch. Bequia is one of the few areas left in the world where the hunting of whales is legal. We went to visit one of the villages on the east coast, Paget Farm, to see what evidence there is of whaling. Taking the local bus for EC $2 we were treated to a 20 minute ride over the hills to the east and a short run out and along the west coast with the blaring soca music to a small village close to the airport.

We got off the bus at Toko’s Bar and walked back through the village which creeps up the steep hillside bordering the rocky coastline. Tucked into the shoreline are a few places where local fishermen can drag their boats out of the water for protection. Here, there was evidence of whaling.

Is this the place where they keep the whale oil and ambergris?

Not only on doorways was there evidence of whaling but stories abound if one listens, and believes, the local folklore. I think though what happens these days is best represented by the boat below. When they do hunt and kill whales they still use traditional methods and are in open boats. Not a task for the unitiated.

Aptly named

Walking through the fishing fleet we caught a few glimpses from the boat names signifying who they put their faith in to return from the sea.

Jah takes the prize. Jah keeps them safe and Jah brings them back from the sea. I’m now wondering if I should have a portrait of Haile Selassie up on the bulkhead?

Looking for a little relaxation we headed back to Toko’s Bar, a place we had heard about on one of our previous visits but was also featured in a recent travel article in the Guardian. Toko’s is tucked under the shade of several trees and perched on the beach across from the small airport runway. There is no menu, lots of beer, friendly faces and a welcoming cook who greets you with the words “what would you like to eat today”. Of course, it has to be something from the sea so for the first time in a restaurant we said ‘lobster’ and lobster it was.

So good she won’t even look at the camera!

A huge plate of lobster with several salads and a Hinano for EC $90 for two!. Here we sat enjoying our meal with soaring frigate birds grabbing chunks of fish thrown to them by the fisherman and a very lively table of staff from the electric company having a liquid lunch with raucous and ribald conversation.

The kitchen window at Toko’s

Getting late so time to head home with stomachs full and a smile on our faces. That’s not hard to do in Bequia.

Connie just can’t let the political side down.

Cheryl , the owner of The Fig Tree restaurant, getting ready for the evening flood of customers and the yachties amateur jam session

Tobago Cays

November 25, 2017

The Tobago Cays are located approximately 6 nm north-east of Union Island in the Grenadines. On the chart it looks like one of those idyllic anchorages isolated from nearby villages and towns.

Looking south over the anchorage and the reef towards Union Island

Idyllic? Yes. Isolated? Yes. Free from tourists? No. We ourselves are tourists so nowhere we go is free of tourists but the Tobago Cays stretch the imagination for being isolated and idyllic with the occasional itinerant sailor dropping their anchor over the bow into crystal clear tropical waters. Here it’s a constant stream of boats big and small that move in and out of the anchorage as though it were Piccadilly Circus. This is a marine park and like many protected areas is oversubscribed with visitors.

By definition (taken from the TC’s Park pamphlet) the Tobago Cays Marine Phark is:

A non-profit government organization which is based on the principles of sustainable use, cooperation amongst resource users, active and enlightened local participation and the equitable sharing of benefits and responsibilities amongst stakeholders

Umm, does this sound like the principles of what I regard as a park? There is nothing here the speaks to the environment like protecting the turtle breeding areas or the reef strewn ecosystem.

The park is beautiful. The most visited park area is uninhabited and has numerous beaches, a corralled no-go area for boaters which protects a miniscule area for turtle grazing and then a large area of exposed reef protecting the islands.

Looking east towards Barbados

As long as the wind isn’t screaming out of the east like a banshee this is a wonderful place to spend a few nights at anchor.

I did kayak almost everywhere including over the reef, through the crystal clear water covering sand a cement company would druel over and walked a number of the higher points.

I’m not sure if the mountains of conch shells were recent

Conch mountain on the left

but one of the local activities that is attractive to the charter yachts are the beach BBQs sold to boaters the minute one’s anchor hits the sand bottom.

Our favourite salesman was this chap, sorry that I don’t remember his name, who started a conversation with us about the great BBQ on shore but then not feeling there was any chance of a sale (beach BBQ was $100EC/person) he moved the conversation on to the war in Afghanistan. 30 minutes later of liming he motored away promising us banana bread the next morning. Sure enough the morning banana bread arrived ($25EC – $12cdn) mostly unrisen and not cooked throughout. We still enjoyed it and continued our liming in the morning.

So another island group visited and another new anchorage but it’s time to move further north.

Kiteboarding anyone?

November 22, 2017

For years I’ve druelled over the idea of kiteboarding possibilities. So what else is there to do in Clifton but kiteboard. Every day kiteboards skim over the waters at our bows making it all look so easy. Except, that is, the foiling kiteboard that hit out boat with his kite. No damage done and I can’t say I was sorry to see him getting dragged past our boat as his kite lay on the water half filled with air. As he drifted by I did ask him if he needed help but he declined as his kite headed towards another boat.

So, now it was my turn. Lesson time. Yes, I am crazy but I couldn’t miss this opportunity.

No, Tony, these are paddle boards NOT kiteboards!

Okay, so strap on the gear and start the lesson.

No, Tony, it’s not remote controlled you actually have to learn how to control the kite.

Okay, so no big deal. The first hour of the lesson is learning how to inflate and handle the kite. Laying out the lines is crtical as you don’t want tangled lines. After that’s done then a little lesson in hooking yourself up on the beach.

Okay there were too many trees onshore to let an amateur like me fly the kite so Butta, the instructor takes over and then said it’s ‘in-the-water-time’.

“What, no I don’t think I’ve had enough land based instruction.” “Too bad,” Butta said “get in the water and it’s time to learn how to actually fly the kite.”

Pause here, as Connie, the official photograper, cannot join us in the water and is restricted to land so not many photos. That’s good though. No evidence.

So out in the water where I learned, I think, the principles of kite flying without the board. The last 20 minutes of the lesson was to use the board and get up and off into the horizon. Well I did that but

Help, rescue me! Yes, that’s me holding onto the kite but not quite on the board.

For a better picture of me on the board see below in centre of boarders.

Well not exactly but close ha, ha

I’m hooked though but have to wait for another opportunity as we have got to head north.

Northwards

November 20, 2017

Final departure was a relief. Work stopped on the boat and the summer months of improving many small things onboard has finally ended and we can look forward to the rewards. I liken it to having a house and being able to see the flowers in full bloom, the vegetables thriving and the summer project completed. Kick back, pull out the lawn chair and pick up a good drink in the left hand and a book in the right.

Well, sailing is a little like that but it can have a bumpy road. Our first bump came in the first anchorage of Tyrell Bay in Cariacou when the alternator quit as we arrived and then the engine starter quit. I won’t say I put my drink down but I was stressed. Over a few days and a few less hairs as well as some help from some fellow sailors we’re back on route again and continuing northward albeit slowly.

Anchorages become a blur when each night sees us in a different place. Hillsborough, Petit St. Vincent, Clifton and soon Petit Rameau, Baradal and Bequia. Exotic? A little, but then everywhere is somewhat exotic for us as it’s another place to ‘drop the hook’ and explore.

November is quiet. We are travelling through areas we last visited in March and July but it’s much quieter and laid back. The towns aren’t as frenetic to serve the tourists, the anchorages are quieter and the assortment of veggies not as numerous. Europeans are here on the charter boats taking advantage of the discounted prices at low season and many of the more permanent cruisers haven’t left the southern islands of Trinidad, Tobago and Grenada for points north.

The weather is better as well. There is clarity in the air and the temperatures are starting to moderate although for Canadians that may sound odd as temperatures in the daytime are still in the low 30s and nightime in the high 20s. How are we ever going to adapt to living in Canada again?

In the meantime we will enjoy the Kiteboarding in Ashton  (click to view video) right off of Sage’s bow. Actually it should read ‘kiteboarding in Clifton’.

Overlooking Clifton Harbour on Union Island

 

Shopping at the one-stall market in Clifton

Hillsborough anchorage

Thoughts on Grenada

November 19, 2017
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2017 summer in Grenada proved to be the best decision we could have made. No doubt everyone has read the reports from the devastating hurricane season in the Caribbean. We’ve already met three people who lost their boats in the northern islands and are here in Grenada looking to purchase a replacement.

Luckily Grenada escaped a hurricane this year. I am a little premature in saying this as the season hasn’t officially ended and doesn’t till the end of the month. However, I feel confident that we’re OK and can start slowly moving north while keeping an eye on the weather reports.

Grenada has been a good place to stop for us. Not cruising, we decided to take the opportunity of a marina slip with close access to the main town, transportation to most of the island, and the freedom to come at go at will as opposed to anchorages on the east side of the island which are sometimes exposed to the weather and are not as convenient to get back and forth to.

We’ve done a lot of small jobs on Sage as well as hauled out for new bottom paint and a few other small ‘below the water line’ jobs.

However, Grenada is not cheap nor is it an easy place to get or do work on the boat. All imported items are subject to a hefty tax and then on top of that the shipping to the island costs a lot. All imported boat items have to be imported through an agent which again adds a cost to the item.

Having work done for you here brings another dimension to the maintenance of boats. Our experience is quite typical. We had a new awning built which, if we had a strong enough sewing machine and a space to work, we could have made quite easily ourselves. We thought having someone make it would be easy.

First we had to get some quotes. The quotes varied by as much as 50%. Getting quotes took a week to coordinate with the respective companies to come to the boat and talk about what we wanted done. After another week we received the quotes and made a decision. Since there is no-one here who stocks the material used it has to be ordered from the US. We assumed that was easy, quick and included in the price. 4 weeks later the material arrived. That wasn’t without constantly contacting the awning maker to ask why the material was held up in Miami, Trinidad and Brazil according to the tracking information. With comments from the maker like ‘god willing’ and responses from me saying it has nothing to do with god but needs some severe prodding to the courier company the material finally arrives.

Now the hard part starts. The maker has the material, he has the order, he has 1/2 the cost so when is it going to be done? In the end, 8 weeks from placing the order the items are finished. A good job but like everything here it’s like pulling teeth.

In conclusion, I hope I never have to make a major repair in Grenada. Expensive, frustrating and slow. On more technical projects I would worry greatly about expertise.

Not only have we worked on the boat but we have also volunteered teaching kids to read. Saturdays were the days to head up to the school and jump in with the kids to read a story, play a game, sing a song and help the kids with their literacy. It was a great opportunity to connect locally and I think we’ll miss the foray to the school.

Trips around the island, Tuesday nights at the Brewery for the cruisets amateur music nights and visits to the waterfalls will be good memories of Grenada.

The other side of Grenada life is well spelt out in the following article – – Grenada poverty

“Grenada, twice the size of Washington, DC, has a GDP per Capita of $3,900 USD. In 2011, domestic workers received a minimum monthly wage of $277.99 (formerly $148) and the minimum wage for a security guard was $2.96 per hour (formerly $1.48). The increase was negotiated by the Wage Advisory Committee (includes representatives from the Grenada Trades’ Union Council and Grenada Employers’ Federation).

Living in the capital of Grenada, Saint George, can be expensive. Research finds that it is 87.2% more expensive than Houston, Texas for groceries; 60.5% more expensive for household costs than Kuala Lumpur, and 43.6% more expensive for transport costs than Dubai. In addition, medical treatment is expensive and medical facilities are considered adequate for general treatment; however, serious emergencies may require evacuation.”

Yes, life here in the islands is not idyllic. It is expensive, it is poor, it is friendly, it is difficult to get around, it is an expert on growing nutmeg and cocoa, it is slow, it is generally safe from hurricanes, it is full of wonderful chocolate and various spices, it is hot and humid in the summer months and it has lots of music (sometimes too much!).

And we’re leaving! So, here are a few memories in photo form.

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Feeling good

Behan, from SV Totem, shopping in the St. George market and getting some cooking advice

Ships and the port are the lifeblood of Grenada

Nutmeg and mace prices at the cooperative

Party central

And a few people we’ve met

Charter boat worker hard at work taking care of last minute details

One of the charter boat staff taking care of the last minute details

From left to right: Tim, Connie, Charlie, Tony, Karen and Margarita

 

Philip, Martin and Louise

Gary keeping busy

Torie having a windy day

Arliss and Eric getting ready to sail westward on Corroboree

Kids at school